Meet the man who wrote the book on Cannabis cocktails

The age of cannabis cocktails has arrived—and if you ask writer and spirit brand ambassador Warren Bobrow, author of Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, & Tonics, it’s been a long time coming. The “Cocktail Whisperer,” as he has come to be known, has been experimenting with cannabis tinctures and infusions for decades, and is one of the first to publish a book detailing his recipes. And while many still view marijuana as an incorrigible vice, Bobrow’s is a much more academic and, at times, spiritual fascination.warren-bobrow-crop-web-690x460

Who is the Cocktail Whisperer?

Like most people in the cocktail industry, Warren Bobrow’s story is a bit of a meandering one. Originally trained as a saucier, his career began with a dish washing job at a restaurant in the seaside town of York Harbor, Maine. He eventually worked his way up to an executive chef position before turning south, starting his own fresh pasta business in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1980s.

“Then we had Hurricane Hugo, and I lost everything,” he explained, rather matter-of-factly. “I moved back to New Jersey, where I was born and raised, and got a job that paid the bills and allowed me to save and have all the nice perks that go with that.”

They told me that America wasn’t ready for it yet, and I think in many ways they still aren’t.

What followed was a 20-year stint as an executive assistant in the banking industry, a job he mostly couldn’t stand. “I didn’t belong in the corporate world—everyone told me so, but I wasn’t listening,” he said. “I made good money and it was tough to leave. But eventually, I lost my job, and I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do.”

Bobrow had always been interested in writing, but by his own admission he didn’t know the first thing about it. Thanks to a connection through his previous employer, though, he got his first chance to prove himself in 2009.

“So I started writing about food and wine, which were the things I was comfortable with. I came across a magazine out in San Francisco called Served Raw, and they gave me a chance to write for them—but they couldn’t afford to pay me anything. They were founders of Amazon or something and they still convinced me they couldn’t afford it,” he laughed. “But it didn’t matter because I started creating things, making drinks.”

He ingratiated himself with the magazine’s editors, and eventually earned himself the moniker of Cocktail Whisperer. “When the magazine went out of business—you know how publications come and go—they gifted me the domain cocktailwhisperer.com, and I still use it today. I think it’s a fitting name, because I try to speak to ingredients from a melodic and nostalgic point of view.”

A Modern Apothecary

The craft cocktail movement was well underway by the time the Cocktail Whisperer came to be, but Bobrow found himself drawn to a relatively unexplored corner of the industry’s history: the apothecary shop. Not always the most reputable businesspeople (hence the archetypal “snake oil salesman”), these early pharmacists nevertheless played an important role in the development of many ingredients and recipes we take for granted today.

The Mezzrole Cannabis Cocktail

The Mezzrole Cocktail, via Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics. Used with permission, c/o Fair Winds Press.

“My grandfather was in the patent pharmaceutical business. He made drugs that were sold in pharmacies all over the world. The colognes and aftershaves made him a wealthy man, but the over-the-counter pharmaceuticals made him a real fortune.”

Perhaps his most famous product was Geritol, an iron supplement that was cited for false advertising that “amounted to gross negligence and bordered on recklessness,” according to the FTC. “He always referred to it as selling ice to eskimos,” Bobrow recounted wryly.

It was, at least in part, this family connection that first piqued his curiosity about history of apothecaries. Rather than attempting to validate what was a pretty clearly unethical business, though, Bobrow has always viewed patent medicines as a manifestation of a much more ancient practice: traditional folk medicine.

His first book, Apothecary Cocktails, explores a number of turn-of-the-century recipes and ingredients that have left a mark on popular drinking culture, as well as the contemporary bars that have sought to revive them. But even back then, cannabis as a cocktail ingredient was squarely on Bobrow’s radar.

The Good Old Days of Cannabis Cocktails

“When I wrote my first book, Apothecary Cocktails, I wanted to include cannabis in it, because it has such a long and storied history as a pharmaceutical. But my publisher wouldn’t let me. They told me that America wasn’t ready for it yet, and I think in many ways they still aren’t.

These substances were used for years, and it was only because of the ‘drugs are bad’ movement that they’ve been erased from history.

As public opinion and the political landscape shifted over the last half-decade, though, he began to feel that the time was ripe for an in-depth exploration of the intersection between cannabis and alcohol—long-time bedfellows in the form of tinctures and infusions in the medicine cabinets of yesteryear.

“I was doing a book signing for my third book, Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails, at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum a while back. At the same time, they were doing a presentation on cannabis in the early pharmacy. I had my entire book written for me, right there!” he said, laughing. “The trick, though, was getting my publisher to even consider it.”

Bobrow got in touch with his editor, who informed him that the publishing house was actually considering a cannabis project for future release. He scrambled to put together a book proposal in three days, and to his delight, they accepted it.

The Culinary Side of Cannabis

One of the things Bobrow wanted to develop was a guide to the flavor profiles of different strains of cannabis—after all, the research that goes into drink development these days is far from trivial.

“I wanted to make drinks that were approachable from a flavor standpoint. You have things like Fernet-Brancawhich is so popular these days, you have all these amari and herbal digestifs on the market, and even vermouth is hot again. Those are all great for introducing people to cannabis as a cocktail ingredient, because they’ve paved the way for strong, herbal flavors in drinks.”

But unlike alcoholic ingredients, he also had to consider the different psychoactive properties of each. “For example, I tried infusing Absinthe Edouard with a high-quality indica strain. It created this wonderfully lucid, translucent feeling. It also makes a great Absinthe Frappé,” he said, chuckling.

“In the book, I describe a series of strains and give tasting notes, like someone would taste whiskey. The idea was to make a guide that would be useful for a cocktail bar, and talk about the interplay between different flavors and psychoactive effects.”

Not Just for the Stoners

One of the biggest challenges when it came to writing Cannabis Cocktails, though, was figuring out how to make it accessible to a wider audience than the typical stoner crowd. “What I wanted to present was a different take on healing, like the early apothecary,” he explained. “These substances were used for years and years, and it was only because of the ‘drugs are bad’ movement that they’ve been erased from history.”

Dramatis Personae Cannabis Cocktail

The Dramatis Personae Cocktail, via Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails, and Tonics. Used with permission, c/o Fair Winds Press.

While the book has faced some backlash from anti-drug activists (and even a few cannabis proponents), it seems that Bobrow is sincerely concerned with ensuring that people enjoy his recipes responsibly. It seems like every other page of his book includes a warning about not overdoing it, and it’s one of the first subjects he brought up in our interview.

“This book is not for beginners,” he stressed, “and I try to make that very clear throughout. They’re strong drinks, even though we did our best to minimize their strength. I don’t recommend them to people who are just looking to party—ideally, they’ll introduce medical and recreational users to the rich history of cannabis in the healing arts.

“What affects me might not affect you the same way, and it might just completely destroy that guy over there,” he continued, pointing to an oblivious patron in the corner. “That’s why I stress: never more than one drink per hour. I take the Thai food principle. You can always get Thai food mild, and add more spice later. Once the spice is there, it’s not coming out. Same thing with a cannabis cocktail.”

The Future of Cannabis Cocktails

Despite the fact that recreational marijuana remains illegal throughout most of the United States, Cannabis Cocktails has been a hit nationwide. And based on its reception at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail, the bartending industry is itching for more opportunities to put his recipes to the test.

We don’t know what the future will hold, but if current trends continue, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a handful of other states joining Colorado and Washington in cannabis legalization this November. But it’s clear that no matter what, Warren Bobrow will be at the forefront, an apothecary for the modern day.

 

The Craft Cocktail Compendium – Look what’s coming!

The Craft Cocktail Compendium

Contemporary Interpretations and Inspired Twists on Time-Honored Classics

Description:

Muddle, mix, shake, stir, pour–whatever the method, you’ll learn how to create the perfect cocktail.

Whether you’re new to mixing drinks or have been creating your own cocktails for years, The Craft Cocktail Compendium has everything you need to know to mix, shake, or stir your way to a delicious drink. With over 200 craft cocktail recipes, expert mixologist Warren Bobrow will help you broaden your skills and excite your taste buds with unique takes on timeless favorites and recipes you’ve likely never tried before.

By: Warren Bobrow

  • ISBN: 9781592337620
  • Publisher: Fair Winds Press
  • Imprint: Fair Winds Press
  • On Sale: May 1, 2017
  • Format: HARDCOVER BOOK
  • Edition: N/A
  • Price: $25.99 ($33.99 In Canada)
  • Category: COOKING
  • Territories:
  • Size:
  • Pages: 320
  • Unit Weight: 0
  • Carton Weight: 0
  • Carton Qty:
  • Country Of Origin: CHN
  • Substitute ISBN:
  • EAN: 9781592337620
Format Edition ISBN US Price Pages/Time Trim Size On Sale Date
HARDCOVER BOOK 9781592337620 $25.99 320 May 1, 2017

Total Food Service Interview; I’m honored!

Warren Bobrow, better known as The Cocktail Whisperer, is the published author of four books in addition to his contributions as a writer to liquor.com, our own totalfood.com and countless others. He has also taught at the New School in New York City and at Stonewall Kitchen in Maine. His latest book is Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics that was released this past June through Fair Winds Press. Much more than just a collection of cocktail recipes, Warren’s new book explores the history of cannabis use in drinks, the over-politicized arguments over its legality and other pertinent topics.

Could you expand on your background and how you got to this point?

I am mostly a self-trained chef, I went to Johnson and Wales for a short time as well as the ACF apprenticeship program. I was working in the television business but that was not working. I went to work as a pot scrubber in restaurant and that set me on the path to become a chef. I am now an ACF-certified Chef and I love to cook. It is catharsis for me.

What were you doing before the Cocktail Whisperer blog and brand took off?

I was working as a chef in Charleston when I lost my business to Hurricane Hugo. Then I moved back to my home state in New Jersey and worked as a bank teller and in private bank for a long time. Then I started Cocktail Whisperer.

What inspired you to write this book?

Ever since I was a young man I have enjoyed the use of cannabis. I have seen cannabis cookbooks released and I wanted to raise the bar by taking cannabis and infusing it with the cocktail business that I am in. I love cocktails and I love cannabis. They are two things that I think “play well together in the sandbox”.

Is it difficult to get people past the stigma that cannabis is bad for you  or somehow wrong?

It is really tough, especially where I am. I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey which is a very conservative place. The mindset is not pro-cannabis. It is arrest, incarcerate and throw away the key. And it is unfortunate because there are valid health benefits to this much maligned plant. Drugs are not bad and people should keep an open mind. Especially those who drink or smoke cigarettes.

What was the process of researching for this book?

The research was done outside of the state of New Jersey, where cannabis is still illegal. I am used to experimenting with culinary ingredients and different flavors so I applied that same mentality to the book. Nothing had ever really been written about it before. I was in new territory. I was careful, my advice to anyone would be to experiment in a place where it is legal and just be careful and responsible.

Could you talk about the other elements of the book other than recipes?

I am constantly trying to destigmatize the use of cannabis. I give a robust history in the beginning with science and humor. This book is for anyone interested in cannabis or anyone who is unsure of how to use it. The introduction was written by Jerry Whiting. Him and I found each other quite organically. He is well extremely well-respected in the healing field which gives the text a lot of credibility from that end.

What advice would you offer people buying the book who will be making these cocktails?

Put it in the hands of your “budtender” to give you knowledge and fill your individual need. Remember that making cannabis cocktails is completely different from smoking cannabis. I give the cure to drinking a bit too much of a cannabis cocktail in the book.

Cannabis_Cocktails_Mezzrole
One of Warren’s creations. c/o Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thoughts are follow the Thai food principle. You can always make something more spicy but you cannot make it less spicy. Start small and build up from there. Remember also that no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose but too much will make you feel awful.

How do you respond to critics who say you’re messing around and that this is your opinion, not fact?

It is fact. I researched this and studied the health and holistic healing benefits, both of which are immense. This book is not a recreational book and was not written as one. It is a way for people to discover new ways to enjoy themselves and to discover some new methods for holistic healing.

Was this an easy book to pitch to your publisher?

Of all the books I have pitched this was the easiest sell. I came up with the idea to write the book at a food show in New York City and when I told my publisher I wanted to write it they asked for a proposal to put in front of the board. The rest is history, they loved the idea since its was going to be the first book of its kind.

How has the response been to the book so far?

Writing this was not an easy thing to do. Many people have purchased the book and love it, however it has brought a certain amount of controversy into my life and anxiety that I did not necessarily want or need. But there is nothing I can do about it, I am just moving forward and surrounding myself with positive people who understand what I am trying to do. Most people love the book and the response has been terrific.

Did you consider that controversy when you were writing the text and did it give you any pause?

I didn’t have any other ideas! It was all I could think of so no, it never crossed my mind. I just saw it as an opportunity to do something unique and interesting.

Seattle!

Cannabis and Cocktails: Tips from the Cocktail Whisperer

Ada’s Technical Books
425 15th Ave East
Seattle, WA 98112

Date:
Friday, August 19, 2016 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm
Friday, August 19th

Join Ada’s as we welcome The Cocktail Whisperer Warren Bobrow to learn the history of cannabis as a social drug and its growing acceptance to becoming a medicinal. Look beyond cocktails and create successful tonics, syrups, shrubs, bitters, compound butter and exotic infused oil to use in any drink.

Warren Bobrow is the creator of the popular blog cocktailwhisperer.com and the author of Apothecary Cocktails, Whiskey Cocktails and Bitters, & Shrub Syrup Cocktails. Warren has taught classes on spirits and cocktails all over the world, including an advanced class on rum at the Moscow Bar Show.

Warren will be signing copies of his book: Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails and Tonics, a collection of 75 recipes of cannabis-influenced cocktails ranging from cocktails incorporating cannabis infused liquors to drinks featuring cannabis bitters and tinctures, and drinks flavored with cannabis smoke. Books are available for purchase in the store or on our website.

The Blackadder (Scotch you will never be able to find)

Imagine, if you will, a liquor company that is able to source a single barrel of whisky at a time.  In an age where liquor companies are trying to produce more and more of their product to slake the thirsts of thousands of thirsty drinkers- there is one company that is decidedly set on satisfying only a couple of hundred- it that!

Enter the Blackadder.  You many remember the BBC Television show by the same name.  If you do, you’re half way there.  The Blackadder was a dark comedy on British television and in many ways the philosophy of  this television show is evident in every sip of the Blackadder!

There is stuff in every bottle of Blackadder.  This stuff is from the inside of the casks!  Blackadder is not filtered or blended.  It is bottled at Cask Strength.

The Blackadder is a one of the most unique single malt Scotch whiskies that I’ve ever tasted. My friend Raj facilitated this tasting by sending me four hand numbered bottles.

  1. Lochranza Distillery- 2011- Raw Cask- label reads that it contains its natural Cask Sediments as well as all the natural oils and fats.  Mmmm, that’s what I like to hear.  The Lochranza  is bottled at 104.8 proof.  At the bottom of the informative label it reads Sherry Puncheon.  I suppose this means that the Scotch was aced (finished) in used sherry casks.  Bottle 82 of 548, Bottled 14th of October 1996
  2. Mannochmore Distillery-1999-Raw Cask- label reads that is also contains its natural Cask Sediments as well as the natural Oils and Fats.  Label reads Speyside malt whisky- one of only 304 bottles drawn at Cask Strength from a single oak cask no.5400 bottled by Blackadder in November 2011. 121.2 Proof 12 years old
  3. Blair Athol Distillery- 1999- 1st September 1999.  Reads: This Highland malt whisky is one of only 462 bottles drawn at Cask Strength from a SINGLE REFILL SHERRY BUTT, marked bottle 66 out of 462. 114.6 proof 12 years old
  4. Blackadder Smoking Islay- The Spirit of Legend-11 year old Islay Malt Scotch Whisky Raw Cask- 118.8 proof- Distilled 12th April 2000, bottled August 2011.

All the whiskies read that they are bottled from carefully selected casks.  They do not chill filter or otherwise filter their whiskies through small filter pads to remove sediment.  No two casks of Whisky are ever exactly alike because of the type of oak used and the conditions under which it is stored.

Like fine wines, these naturally bottled whiskies may throw a little sediment.  Now we’re talking!

I love wines with stuff in them.  Why not whisky?  Why not!?

Tasting Notes:  I did all the tastings in front of a blazing wood fire after eating a rib steak sandwich with Swiss cheese and grainy French mustard on Pechter’s Rye bread.  I used a tiny bit of spring water to open up the Whiskies. No ice.  A Maine tumbled granite sea-stone (frozen overnight) provided a bit of chill- to cellar temp.  Truth is this tasting is highly un-scientific.  You will never read scores from me.  I find them incongruous.

  1. Lochranza Distillery- I’ve woken up in a honey bee nest.  My skin is covered in honey and the bees are giving me little tiny nips with their stingers. Not enough to hurt, just enough to know they are there.  Pure smoke lingers on the periphery. It’s the beekeeper- smoking out the bees.  It tastes of peat and smoke-honey and dark stone fruits. Luscious stuff- the finish just goes on and on.
  2. Smoking Islay- the fire in the fireplace is giving off that tell-tale smoky scent of wet wood.  There is the scent of wet-dog and wet clothing and wet leather.  Spanish leather at that.  What does Spanish leather taste like? Come off your horse in the pouring rain, the last thing you remember before you bury your face in the mud is licking your saddle on the way down.  That’s what Spanish leather tastes like.  Candy sugar on the tongue and deep inside my throat gives way to sweet honey and freshly cut grasses.  There is some citrus in there too. Almost a wine like nose- if the wine was a very well aged Muscadet that is.  I love this stuff.
  3. Blair Athol Distillery- There is wind blowing through my hair- tinged salt water and more wildflower honey, a farmhouse comes into view and there is a fire in the chimney- yet the residents are not aware of the pending disaster.  Approaching the house I realize there is no fire in the chimney, it is coming from a peat fire in the backyard.  But no matter- there is fire and salt and smoke.  Honey gummy bears on the tongue with little bursts of sweet rock candy in the finish.  This is awfully sophisticated.  Thick perhaps. Creamy.
  4. Mannochmore- What can I say about perfection.  With a splash of cool spring water I am transported to a foreign country without grasp of the language.  This Speyside whisky is frightening in its depth and grip. I taste more honey and salt- smoke and smoked salmon- yes Scottish smoked salmon in the finish.  Salty. Salty Salty. Golden honey in color- there is stuff in the bottle. Scotch is not usually my go-to on spirits but with bottles of whisky as sensual and delicious as these in my cabinet, the frosty winter winds may blow- causing me no immediate harm.   Thank you Raj for being so generous with gifts of perhaps the best whisky you can find.